Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Short-Lived Relic of Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz - a guest post by Prof. Shnayer Z. Leiman

I am pleased and excited to present this guest post by Prof. Leiman. While I don't think he needs an introduction in this venue, and I don't believe he wants one, duty obliges me to apply the statement כל הבורח מן הגדולה גדולה מחזרת אחריו. - S.
A recent issue of Kehilot, the Wednesday supplement to Ha-Mevasser, a Haredi newspaper published in Israel, featured on its front page a photograph of a Jewish relic. The relic was a decorated ceramic plate that was identified as belonging to Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz, the venerable eighteenth century rabbi and talmudist who served with distinction as Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in Prague, Metz, and Altona-Hamburg.

A brief note accompanying the photograph explains that the plate had been used by R. Jonathan Eibeschuetz and was then passed down in his family from one generation to the next. It came into the possession of R. Leibush Eibeschuetz, a direct descendant who settled in Jerusalem early in the twentieth century. In turn, his daughter, Rebbetzin Samet inherited it from him. It was her practice to use the plate for the Seder plate on Passover eve. A grandson from her second marriage (to R. Abraham Joshua Heschel), Rabbi Menahem Shlomo Bekerman – the well known head of  מוסדות טשכנוב in Israel – owns the plate today.

Alas, even a glance at the photograph of the plate indicates that it is a commemorative plate celebrating the setting and life of a hero who does not appear to be Jewish. More importantly, an inscription in Cyrillic script in the center of the plate raises an obvious question. Why would R. Jonathan Eibeschuetz possess a commemorative plate with an inscription he almost certainly could not read? It gets worse. The Russian inscription under an iconic statue clearly reads (in translation): Monument of Prince Vorontsov.

Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov’s monument stands today in Odessa, at the very place it stood when it was first erected in 1863. Vorontsov (1782-1856) was a Russian prince and field marshal, famous for his exploits in the Napoleonic wars and in the Caucasian wars. He died and was buried in Odessa.

The commemorative ceramic plate, with its depiction of the Vorontsov monument, is often replicated and reissued. No issue of the ceramic plate could have appeared prior to November 9, 1863, when the monument was unveiled for the first time in Odessa. Despite his rich imagination and mastery of kabbalistic teaching, it does not appear likely that R. Jonathan Eibeschuetz  (d. 1764) owned a commemorative plate that was issued in 1863 or later.

 I am deeply grateful to Rabbi Menachem Silber for bringing the Ha-Mevasser Kehilot account to my attention.

(All images may be enlarged by right-clicking and opening a new window. -S.)








 



32 comments:

  1. Awesome post. But it raises further questions. Since the plate has previously been declared kodesh, does it now simply cease to be kodesh? Should the family ignore their mesorah, since it cannot withstand scrutiny? Are they even free to do so?

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  2. and why did Rav Steiman get all excited about it?

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  3. Fascinating post!

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  4. Obviously, somewhere along the way, some charlatan sold/presented to this family the plate with attached claims.

    Myths debunked!

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  5. It's so sad that charedim can be so little trustd when it comes to history. It would be nice not to have to doubt everything they say and write. Alas, as long as they publish stories like this, their credibility remains very low.

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  6. I wonder what the segulah properties were that this plate was believed to contain!

    And I wonder how the intermediate owners explained R. Eybeschuetz's decorative taste, with images of statues on the porcelain. (Or maybe they thought it was completely unremarkable to have human forms on dishes?)

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  7. Jackie, are you the Jackie who's studying Modern Jewish History at Revel?

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  8. That plate should have been used for Tena'im.

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  9. You know how they say that if you wait long enough, styles all return?

    Do you notice the messy manner in which the prince is wearing his hair in the artists depiction?

    Reminds me of Prince Harry and many others these days!

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  10. If someone was scammed by this plate at some point, and we hold ceramic cannot be Kashered, who's to say this plate can be assumed to be Kosher?

    Who knows who the real original owner was?

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  11. I hardly think the assumption must be that someone was scammed by this plate. It is equally plausible that the plate has been used in the family for generations - 150 years, and it could have been in the family for that long, is a long time. All it would take is the fertile imagination of someone to decide who the original owner was, or to ask a grandmother who may have answered "I don't know, maybe it was the zeide R. Yonasan" or any variation of that. Given that the plate is in possession of a family with a chezkas kashrus, I can think of no reason why the assumption ought to be the other way.

    Furthermore, although obviously I do not disagree with Prof. Leiman since he has proved that the plate must be less than 150 years old, I would opine that the fact that R. Yonasan Eybeschutz could not read cyrilic writing is in itself no objection to his having owned it. Yes, this is not authentic. But suppose it was the proper age. Any number of possible scenarios could have occurred which explained why he had a plate with an inscription in a language he did not read, we can imagine many of them.

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  12. While I agree with S. that the question of R. Eybeschutz's fluency in Russian or with the Cyrillic alphabet is of questionable relevance to the provenance of the heirloom. However, I think the content of the inscription/image is indeed relevant. What if the monument depicted on the plate honored, say, Bogdan Chmelnitzky?

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  13. Then that would make the story 10 times as good. But it doesn't, does it? ;-)

    For the record, I remember reading a couple of years ago a story about a young woman who rented an apartment after its elderly occupants passed away and she was left with their dishes, some of which had a swastika stamped on the bottom. She reached out for help to track down the story of these dishes, and I don't remember the details, but it had something to do with their obtaining them when they were in need of dishes as war refugees. She felt weird using them and was uncertain what to do, and I think finally donated them to Yad Vashem, or something like that. But clearly the couple used them because they needed dishes.

    Does anyone know if R. Yonasan's family was impacted by Khmelnitzky? I would guess they were, but I'm not sure. He was only born 35 years after the massacres.

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  14. How classic of Dr. Leiman, master of the understatement, to emphasize by ommission the saddest/most ironic bit of this tale: the last paragraph of the Charedi newspaper blurb.

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  15. A key issue raised by “Relic of R. Jonathan Eibeschuetz” is the status of Jewish relics. Does Jewish teaching recognize and venerate relics of צדיקים? Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on “Relic” knows about Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Marxist relics, but knows nothing about Jewish relics. If a relic refers to a body part of, or an object owned by, a צדיק that is preserved and venerated, we certainly have Jewish relics. For starters, see Yerushalmi Mo’ed Katan 3:1 where the Tanna R. Shimon b. Eleazar, disciple of R. Meir, preserved and used his teacher’s cane in order to solve halakhic problems (so the plain sense of the text; some of the later commentators understood it metaphorically). The underlying theory seems to be that objects owned by the righteous become endowed with the holiness of their owner. In turn, these objects can transfer their holiness to others who use or wear them. A famous sample of an object owned by the righteous that became endowed with holiness is the donkey of R. Pinhas b. Yair (b. Hullin 7a) that would only eat from properly tithed food. Owned by anyone else, it presumably would have consumed non-kosher food as well. Regarding objects that transfer their holiness to others, samples abound in talmudic and midrashic literature (e.g., the garments of Adam and Eve inherited by Nimrod, then Esau, and worn by Jacob). In later periods, it was (and continues to be) commonplace for a צדיק to wear on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur an item of clothing worn by an earlier צדיק. See Rabbi Y.D. Babad, אוצר י"ד החיים (Lemberg, 1934 and later reprints) entry 280; and cf. the very interesting discussion in Rabbi J. Lewy, מנהג ישראל תורה (Brooklyn, 1994), vol. 3, p. 78. A comprehensive study of Jewish relics would appear to be an appropriate scholarly desideratum.

    Shnayer Leiman

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    1. Dr Leiman,
      I don't think your example of Adam's clothes would qualify as a relic. Neither Eisav nor Nimrod got any holiness from them. The protection they provided and/or their significance was because they were made directly by G-d and thus had some intrinsic powers, , not from their previous owners.

      Your Yerushalmi, if taken literally as you mention, is definitely a valid example. R'Pinchas ben Yair's donkey is more debatable. There is a medrash which makes it to all the children's books
      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41720&st=&pgnum=28

      about a cow who was sold to a nonjew and didn't want to work on shabbos until the former owner told him that it was okay now that it was sold. At least in my understanding of relics ,which could well be wrong, that wouldn't fit in.

      On the other hand I was told that in lakewood they found a gemara which had signatures of R'akivah Eigar and another Gadol. The gaboim wanted to sell it to buy more Seforim, RAK said not to as wuold be a zvhus to learn in that Gemara.

      Midwest

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  16. Without taking anything away from Dr. Leiman's legendary detective abilities, his very neat demolition job here was almost ridiculously easy. All that was needed is some basic knowledge of Russian. After that all one has to do is google and all the information about Prince Vorontsov and his statue will pop up on Wikipedia.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  17. LOL
    and the BS dogma continues, we jews, (I wonder if chasidim more then the others) are so gullable.. It's nebech SICK.

    Anyone for a 2nd Divrie Chaim's Sefer Torah?

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  18. Baruch writes: " It's so sad that charedim can be so little trustd when it comes to history. It would be nice not to have to doubt everything they say and write. Alas, as long as they publish stories like this, their credibility remains very low."
    You know what's truly sad, Baruch? Your bitterness and your resultant tendency to generalize about haredim.

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  19. Some checking turns up the interesting fact that Prince Vorontsov was not just a general, but an important administrator and provincial governor, and that he was, within the limits of his day, a liberal and a reformer and pro-Jewish. Again, this is very relative. We are speaking, after all, about the period of the reign of Nicholas I. But perhaps that might partially explain why some Jews would own such a commemorative plate.

    Lawrence Kaplan


    Lawrence Kaplan

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  20. Re the issue of Chareidim being 'trusted' and so on. What I've learned is that nothing can be fully trusted, everything should be double checked. There are important items and documents and so on which only appear in Chareidi publications, so they cannot be discounted, to say nothing of important oral history which by its very nature can only be produced and collected in said communities. That said, yes, I would imagine that in other venues someone would probably have looked twice at this plate.

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  21. On the question of relics in Judaism; as far the RaMCHa"L is concerned, relics are of great value. Here is a direct quote of the Mesilas Yesharim.

    "כי התלמידי חכמים הקדושים בדרכיהם ובכל מעשיהם הנה הם ממש כמקדש וכמזבח, מפני שהשכינה שורה עליהם כמו שהייתה שורה במקדש ממש, והנה הנקרב להם כנקרב על גבי המזבח ומלוי גרונם תחת מילוי הספלים, ועל דרך זה כל תשמיש שישתמשו מדברי העולם אחרי היותם כבר דבוקים לקדושתו יתברך, הִנָּהּ עילוי ויתרון הוא לדבר ההוא שזכו להיות תשמיש לצדיק.

    וכבר הזכירו ז"ל בעניין אבני המקום שלקח יעקב ושם מראשותיו (חולין צ"א):
    "אמר רבי יצחק: מלמד שנתקבצו כולן, והייתה כל אחת אומרת:
    עלי יניח צדיק ראשו".

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/mesilat/mesilat26-2.htm

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    1. בענין סגולת חפץ של צדיק ראה ג"כ- דרשות הר"ן הדרוש השמיני ; ז"ל שם - והרמב"ן ז"ל כתב בסוף סדר והיה עקב: ויתכן באנשי זאת המעלה שתהיה נפשם גם בחייהם צרורה בצרור החיים, כי הם בעצמם מעון לשכינה, כאשר רמזו בעל ספר הכוזרי ע"כ, ואפשר שנתכוין גם לזה. ולפיכך בהמצא לנביאים והחסידים בדורות יהיה השפע שופע עליהם, ובאמצעותם אפשר שיהיה שופע על כל המוכנים מבני דורם. וכל שכן לאותם שהם מתקרבים אליהם ומשתתפים עמהם. ולא בחייהם בלבד כי גם אחרי מותם, מקומות קברותיהן ראויין להמצא השפע שם בצד מן הצדדים. כי עצמותיהם אשר כבר היו כלים לחול עליהם השפע האלהי, עדיין נשאר בהם מן המעלה והכבוד שיספיק לכיוצא בזה. ומפני זה אמרו רז"ל: שראוי להשתטח על קברי הצדיקים ולהתפלל שם. כי התפלה במקום ההוא תהיה רצויה יותר להמצא שם גופות אשר חל עליהם כבר השפע האלהי:
      ואין זה מן התימה, כי הנה ראינו שאמר הש"י למשה. ואת המטה הזה תקח בידך וכו'. הנה המטה הזה מפני שהיה בידו של משה בעמדו לפני הסנה, וחל עליו מן הענין האלהי עד שנעשה בו האות הראשון, מפני זה אחר כך היה מסייע בעשיית האותות האחרות, שבכל האותות שנעשו במצרים צוה האל שיעשו על ידי המטה. ולא היה המטה מסייע בעשיית האותות בתנועתו לבד, אבל בהמצאו שם גם כן, שהרי מצינו שאמר הש"י למשה במי מריבה האחרונים, קח את המטה והקהל את העדה אתה ואהרן אחיך ודברתם וגו'. הנה בכאן לא צוהו שיכה בסלע כלל אבל שידבר אליו, ועם כל זה אמר קח המטה. הנה נראה כי המצא המטה שם היה מסייע בעשיית הנס ההוא,

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  22. Torila,

    When you are educated in charedi society and slowly learn as you get older that so many things you were taught, and read in books, is false or only half-true, don't you think a tiny bitterness is justified?

    Also, charedim represent themselves as the only "Torah-true" Jews who preach pristine Judaism (in opposition to everyone else). Considering this representation, it is detestable that they care so little about emes, which is the seal of Hashem. This is another cause of my "bitterness."

    And generalizing is a normal, rational behavior. Of course, not all charedim care little for historical truth, but as a generalization it is definitely true.

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  23. Baruch, what a predictable justification. Suffice it to say that Torilla's assessment was on target. The reason for it was offered by none other than you, and yes, that's another sign of "bitterness". Call it whatever you want or justify it however you'd like, either way it has no place here.

    Of course, all bitter people have only themselves to blame (considering they're God fearing individuals). Now that's a definitely true generalization.

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  24. COMPROMISER

    Baruch and Anonymous/Torilla are both right. Baruch is right that the lack of concern for truth is a problem in orthodox society (although that's also a problem in non orthodox society); and anonymous is right that it shouldnt be discussed on this particualr blog.

    (signed)

    COMPROMISER

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  25. Compromiser, what would be a good forum for such a discussion? If you ask me, this is one of the more neutral, non-heated places for discussion, so why not here? Which is another way of saying, will the discussion ever occur? We can't wait for an article in a journal every ten years, followed by four selected letters six months later.

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    1. S,
      You obviously have people on both sides of the divide. Compare the tone of your remarks to those of the combatants. Also the more subtle dispute by others about the significance of the post. Using the forum for a bare knuckles, heated argument will not maintain the blessed quite tone of your blog.

      Midwest

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  26. COMPROMISER

    S., I view this as a scholarly blog for intelligent people. Nothing wrong with debating the issue, I just figure they can do that on other blogs devoted to pop jewish issues. Of course, it is your blog, and if you are OK with having these debates in the comments, then who am I to complain.

    COMPROMISER

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  27. I found my way here following a search to do with an issue affecting the Jewish community in London and arrived at the blog of the mixed dancing scandal last century.
    The blogs that I found that actually discussed the topic I was looking for were filled with unnecessary gossip and unrestrained hatred towards sections of the jewish community.
    Instead of getting involved with them I have instead spent the last 3 weeks perusing this site and, in contrast, have found it filled with, in the main, intellectual honesty, an interest in hearing other people's opinions and a general lack of judgementalism.
    I personally do not want to read comments that tar a whole community with one brush. I know many people who associate with the chareidi world who would be equally annoyed by the inaccuracy in this article.
    M.

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